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GR L-17821 | Nov 29 1963

PRIMITIVO LOVINA, and NELLY MONTILLA, plaintiffs-appellees,


vs.
HON. FLORENCIO MORENO, as Secretary of Public Works and Communications, and
BENJAMIN YONZON, defendants-appellants.

FACTS: The cause started by a petition of numerous residents of the said municipality to the
Secretary of Public Works and Communications, complaining that appellees had blocked the
"Sapang Bulati", a navigable river in Macabebe, Pampanga, and asking that the obstructions
(dams and dikes) be ordered removed, under the provisions of Republic Act No. 2056. After
notice and hearing to the parties, the said Secretary found the constructions to be a public
nuisance in navigable waters, and, in his decision, ordered the land owners, spouses Lovina, to
remove five (5) closures of Sapang Bulati; otherwise, the Secretary would order their removal at
the expense of the respondent. Respondent filed a petition in the Court of First Instance of Manila
to restrain the Secretary from enforcing his decision, which was granted.

ISSUES: W/N there was unlawful delegation of judicial power to the Secretary of Public Works
and Communications by RA 2056

ARGUMENT: The position of the plaintiffs-appellees was that Republic Act No. 2056 is
unconstitutional because it invests the Secretary of Public Works and Communications with
sweeping, unrestrained, final and unappealable authority to pass upon the issues of whether a
river or stream is public and navigable, whether a dam encroaches upon such waters and is
constitutive as a public nuisance, and whether the law applies to the state of facts, thereby
Constituting an alleged unlawful delegation of judicial power to the Secretary of Public Works and
Communications.

RULING: WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from is reversed, and the writs of injunction
issued therein are annulled and set aside. The objections of the appellees to the constitutionality
of Republic Act No. 2056, not only as an undue delegation of judicial power to the Secretary of
Public Works but also for being unreasonable and arbitrary, are not tenable

RATIO: It will be noted that the Act (R.A. 2056) merely empowers the Secretary to remove
unauthorized obstructions or encroachments upon public streams, constructions that no private
person was anyway entitled to make, because the bed of navigable streams is public property,
and ownership thereof is not acquirable by adverse possession (Palanca vs. Commonwealth, 69
Phil. 449).

It is true that the exercise of the Secretary's power under the Act necessarily involves the
determination of some questions of fact, such as the existence of the stream and its previous
navigable character; but these functions, whether judicial or quasi-judicial, are merely
incidental to the exercise of the power granted by law to clear navigable streams of
unauthorized obstructions or encroachments, and authorities are clear that they are, validly
conferable upon executive officials provided the party affected is given opportunity to be heard,
as is expressly required by Republic Act No. 2056, section 2.

That the creek was navigable in fact before it was closed was also testified to by the government
witnesses, whose version is corroborated as we have seen.

Considering the well-established rule that findings of fact in executive decisions in matters within
their jurisdiction are entitled to respect from the courts in the absence of fraud, collusion, or grave
abuse of discretion (Com. of Customs vs. Valencia, 54 O.G. 3505), none of which has been
shown to exist in this case, we agree with appellant that the court below erred in rejecting the
findings of fact of the Secretary of Public Works.

The findings of the Secretary can not be enervated by new evidence not laid down before him, for
that would be tantamount to holding a new investigation, and to substitute for the discretion and
judgment of the Secretary the discretion and judgment of the court, to whom the statute had
entrusted the case. It is immaterial that the present action should be one for prohibition or
injunction and not one for certiorari, in either event the case must be resolved upon the evidence
submitted to the Secretary, since a judicial review of executive decisions does not import a trial
de novo, but only an ascertainment of whether the executive findings are not in violation of the
constitution or of the laws, and are free from fraud or imposition, and whether they find
reasonable support in the evidence. Here, the proof preponderates in favor of the Secretary's
decision.

Nevertheless, we, agree with appellees that they can not be charged with failure to exhaust
administrative remedies, for the Secretary's decision is that of the President, in the absence of
disapproval.

Finally, there being a possibility that when they purchased the property in question the appellees
Lovina were not informed of the illegal closure of the Bulati creek, their action, if any, against their
vendor, should be, and is hereby, reserved.